Electric shuttle buses on Mississippi State campus will be first of its kind in state, Southeastern Conference

Published 7:46 am Friday, May 3, 2024

New electric passenger shuttle buses on the Mississippi State campus will be the first of its kind in Mississippi and the Southeastern Conference.

Mississippi State University will be on the cutting edge of technology, innovation and research—introducing an electric-autonomous passenger shuttle system pilot program to campus and community this fall.

The shuttles, deployed by Beep, Inc., are designed for safety, sustainability, accessibility and efficiency.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Two shuttles, each seating up to 11 passengers, including an attendant, are slated to be available for riders in September as part of a pilot project to evaluate how the autonomous vehicles complement other modes of campus transportation. Two routes are planned to shuttle students between the core of campus and key housing points, as well as popular entertainment destinations.

“We are excited to announce this special project which is going through several layers of approval, including the Mississippi Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration,” said Jeremiah Dumas, MSU executive director of transportation. “Safety is the highest priority, as it is with any method of transportation,” he added, explaining the vehicles will not be allowed to operate on roads signed at more than 25 mph and are equipped with AI-enabled remote human supervision and self-governance. Although they will be self-driving, Dumas said each will have a full-time attendant on board.

“This trained staff member can operate the vehicle and assist passengers when needed and serve as an ambassador to provide information. Similar vehicles have been in use at Yellowstone, in the Orlando, Florida metropolitan area, and near the Braves Stadium in Atlanta, at the Honolulu airport and beyond,” Dumas said. “Everywhere they’re deployed, people love them.”

Beep will provide the autonomous mobility solutions, services and electric vehicles to MSU throughout the tentative pilot period of Sept. 1-Nov. 30.

In addition to piloting how the vehicles meet campus needs, the program also will gather information—research data informing transportation planning in rural-urban environments.

“It’s natural for MSU to lead in applying this type of technology on campus and in the local town-and-gown community context because we already are a national and global leader in the realm of unmanned and autonomous vehicles,” Dumas emphasized. “MSU’s Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems and Raspet Flight Research Laboratory are doing research on autonomous, remote vehicles.” He said he hopes for the chance to partner with other institutions to form a research consortium and expand the study period to further test use of autonomous vehicles in rural-urban settings.

The university contracted with Beep this past December and is conducting the development phase of the pilot program this spring, mapping and creating three-dimensional scans of routes in preparation for the fall deployment. The process includes identifying parking and charging locations and determining routes and stop locations. Beep currently is using lidar technology, which uses light detection and ranging for precise measurements, to finalize required digital maps.

“We absolutely see this as a long-term operational opportunity for these shuttles to be part of our daily solution. Our ultimate goal is to understand the role an autonomous mobility system such as this can play on campus. Do they work on campus where there are a lot of riders, or do we need to look at a longer route with fewer riders? We don’t know yet, and we want to see what we find out,” Dumas said. “We did pretty extensive research to understand that this is something we wanted to invest in.”

Dumas said students and community members can expect more details about the vehicles and program specifics as the fall semester approaches.